Doctoral Student Wages War on COVID-19
Doctoral Student Wages War on COVID-19

The arm of Creighton University is long.

Brigitte Frey, who is studying for her doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree online at Creighton, is among the nation’s indispensable nursing staff battling the COVID-19 pandemic — in her case in a hospital and retirement community just outside Philadelphia.

“We are seeing about 20 patients testing positive in the emergency department at the hospital where I work every day,” she says. “It’s been increasing. The last couple of days, it went from about five to 14 or 15 every day, up to 20 today. So we’re seeing quite a few.”

By the time the patients reach her, Frey says, they are pretty much in need of hospitalization. At that point they will have passed through several layers of screening, and the classic symptoms of COVID-19 — including shortness of breath — will be evident.

Her work at the retirement community is similarly impacted by COVID-19, where residents have begun testing positive and the enclosed nature of the facility poses special challenges of infection control.

And if that weren’t enough, Frey is part of a church group whose members have transformed their quilt-making skills into medical mask production.

“They’re making masks at home,” she says. “I don’t have a whole lot of time to do it myself, I perhaps make about 10 masks a day, but the others each make about 20 or 30 masks a day each. It’s quite a lot, hundreds of masks a day.”

The past several weeks have been intense, Frey says, sometimes requiring more than 80 work hours a week. A significant portion of this has been spent in the retirement community, training nurses and support staff in the mechanics of infection control and airborne disease mitigation.

“There hadn’t been a ton of planning and training in that area, but when we started getting information from local hospitals that we were probably going to have to start housing patients on site, the nursing staff got together and put together an education program,” she says.

“There was a whole lot of retraining.”

Personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns remain in short supply, she says, with masks having to last several days and be stored in paper bags at the end of the day. Masks and other medical necessities are being closely monitored, she said, with nurses required to sign for everything they use.

This, she says, is where the church group plays a critical role, since its members make masks from fabric provided, and approved, by the hospital.

“They are the only homemade masks approved for us in the hospital,” she says. “Prior to this the hospital didn’t allow us to bring in our own masks.”

The long hours and the stress of the COVID-19 danger, Frey says, combine to make mental health services for the medical staff a necessity.

“There’s obviously going to be a lot of mental health fallout from this situation and everything surrounding it,” she says. “A lot of therapy services that were previously open to health care professionals are not available right now, and there are really high anxiety levels.

“I’m on a shared governance committee, and we thought it would be a good idea to make a group where everybody could come together and make use of the social workers and psychiatrists who work here. With everything that’s going on it’s important to have background support, and it’s been working well.”